St. Paul's Lutheran Church
Our hymnody is comprised of hymns that have been sung through the centuries. We have hymns in our Lutheran Service Book that are from the 3rd, 7th, and the 12th centuries. And of course, we have many contributions from our own heritage. Luther himself wrote dozens of hymns. And we keep adding to the hymnody. There are notable additions made every decade. The hymns of Stephen Starke are a wonderful example of modern hymns that are in keeping in with the tradition of the hymnody.
I very much want to preserve and continue to hand down the hymnody to the next generation. To do so, we need to learn our hymns! So, beginning in March we will sing a “Hymn of the Month”. This hymn will be featured in the newsletter and the bulletin, and will tie into the time of the church year. Perhaps by learning a bit more about the history and background of a hymn, and then singing it throughout the month in worship, we can begin to be enriched and enlivened by the great treasury we have.
Hymns and Our Hymnody
Have you ever wondered why we sing the hymns we sing? I know you have, especially if you weren’t raised Lutheran. You might even find yourself questioning why sing hymns at all. Why not popular songs? Or contemporary music?
There is a good reason. It’s called the hymnody. The hymnody is a very special club. It doesn’t just let in any old hymn. You have to “earn” your way in. This might sound elitist and admittedly, it is. The hymnody is an elite collection of hymns that the Church has sung through the ages. It is the tradition of what the Church has sung in praise to the Lord since its birth. The hymnody has been handed down year after year, generation after generation. Century after century.
God’s people have been singing since the beginning. There is a number of reasons for this. Singing is a great way to remember. Have you ever had a catchy commercial or jingle stuck in your head? Putting something to song is a great way to remember, especially the teachings of God. The entire book of Psalms is not simply a book, but a collection of songs (hymns). Psalms were sung! All the psalms were set to music. The worship tradition we inherited was first from the Jewish synagogue. Jewish worship always sang in worship. One of the songs they used and that we use (still) in worship is the Sanctus (Holy, Holy, Holy). It is likely that Jesus Himself sang a version of the Sanctus. How cool is that—that we sing something that Jesus sang!
It can’t be denied, though, that music is quite subjective. Styles change, and people like what they like. Some melodies really stand the test of time, but others die. But what makes a hymn a great hymn is not centered on the music but the words. Great hymns in the hymnody have meaningful and confessional words and are based in Scripture and the Creeds. And that is how a hymn gets into the club. It’s words teach, confess, and praise, and proclaim. Great hymns often sing God’s words back to Him. Sometimes a great text get matched with a lasting melody…but it’s the words that make it truly last.